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Banff bed and breakfast inn owner pushes for accessible redevelopment

BANFF – Commercialization of residential neighbourhoods is at the centre of a debate on whether a bed and breakfast inn made up of historic cabins can be demolished and replaced with a two-storey building with more rooms for tourists.
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John Watson RMO PHOTO

BANFF – Commercialization of residential neighbourhoods is at the centre of a debate on whether a bed and breakfast inn made up of historic cabins can be demolished and replaced with a two-storey building with more rooms for tourists.

JP Middleton, who is wheelchair-bound with a spinal injury following a skiing accident at Mount Norquay last year, wants to demolish his Banff Beaver Cabins to build a new, fully accessible building, increasing the number of commercial accommodation units from six to 10.

At issue is interpretation over what the meaning of an “existing” B&B inn means in Banff’s land use bylaw, the appropriate increase to the number of commercial accommodation units and growth management legislation in Banff National Park.

Town of Banff planners say this particular case before the Municipal Planning Commission will guide any future consideration for demolition and redevelopment of the seven other existing B&B inns in Banff, which are primarily located in older residential buildings.

“Our focus has been on understanding what the intent of the word ‘existing’ means, whether it’s the use specifically or whether it includes the scale and intensity of the operation and if that scale would be enshrined forever,” said Darren Enns, the Town’s development services manager. “The broader issue involves commercial growth management and how it is managed outside the commercial districts.”

The James Thomson Residence and Cabins were built over a 35-year period between 1914 and 1950. Today there are four buildings and two sheds left on the site, and each have varying degrees of historical integrity remaining. The property is on the municipality’s heritage inventory.

For Middleton, the issue is about trying to build Banff’s first fully accessible visitor accommodation.

He wants to replace ageing buildings at 218-220 Beaver St. that are proving to be a money pit given the ongoing maintenance required.

Middleton is now an advocate for accessible accommodation in Banff. A hard fall after getting bounced over a cat track caused him to break one of his vertebrae, leading to severe damage to his spinal cord on March 9 last year.

He said he struggles with accessibility in Banff, including streets, sidewalks, parking lots, businesses – and now his own B&B business.

“We’re kindly requesting a modest increase from 13 to 18 beds to allow a fully accessible property,” he said, noting the primary function of the town is to be a centre for visitors.

“We simply require more square footage with accessibility and to have a viable business.”

There are currently eight B&B inns in Banff. These developments are different than B&B homes, in that they only exist because they were authorized by Parks Canada prior to municipal incorporation in 1990.

Banff’s land use bylaw defines B&B inns as an “existing” B&B home larger than typical with no more than 10 commercial accommodation units.

One interpretation under consideration is that definition does not freeze the property to what existed at the date of incorporation; rather, it allows those existing B&Bs to continue to operate and contain no more than 10 units if they ever decide to renovate.

A second interpretation put forward by the Town of Banff is that “existing” refers not only to the use of the property as a B&B inn, but also refers to the scale and intensity and/or structures associated with that inn.

“If the definition of ‘existing’ is interpreted in this fashion, then it could be reasonably assumed that any changes to the scale, intensity and/or buildings may not be considered,” said town planner Jennifer Laforest.

In addition, Parks Canada set a commercial growth cap in 1998 in response to concerns about rampant development in the national park, allowing an additional 350,000 square feet of commercial growth in commercial districts on top of what existed at that time.

One interpretation that is under consideration for the clause in the management plan dealing with the cap is that it only applies to development projects within the commercial districts.

However, another interpretation put forward to MPC is that it not only limits development in the commercial districts, but extends to any new commercial development outside of those areas.

“This approach would also apply to other commercial development occurring outside of commercial land use districts, for example a telecom business within the PS district, home occupations within residential districts,” said Laforest.

“It is anticipated that further refinements to this issue will come out of the 2020 Banff National Park Management Plan process.”

Parks Canada, which has final say on all land use decisions within the national park townsite, is pretty clear on the matter.

They say that completely demolishing the existing B&B inn and constructing entirely new buildings means the development no longer meets the definition of a B&B breakfast inn in the bylaw.

“On this basis, it is an entirely new commercial development outside legislation and the park management plan and occurs in a residential area,” according to a report submitted to MPC.

The federal agency maintains that even if the definition of B&B inn could be considered as still applying in the case of the Banff Beaver Cabins, the increase in both the number of rooms and gross floor area constitutes commercial growth over and above what existed previously.

“This increase is outside the legislative limits,” stated the report.

“Therefore, approval of this development would not conform with the Banff National Park of Canada Management Plan, which requires that limits to commercial growth within the town be respected.”

Alasdair Russell, of Russell & Russell Design Studios and Middleton’s consultant, said he believes the Town of Banff’s arguments and interpretations aren’t compelling.

He said planning law also doesn’t set precedents because all applications must be argued and considered individually.

“I certainly don’t want to be caught up in trying to be the flagship for bed and breakfast inn redevelopment,” he said.

If all goes according to plan, Russell said they hope to relocate the buildings rather than demolish them.

“We have been talking to somebody in Banff as well as in people in the province, however we do not have anything in place so we can’t make any promises,” he said.

“The tiny little shacks are no longer appropriate for visitor accommodation and in no way serve disabled people at all.”

If the application on the determination of use of the B&B inn doesn’t get approved, Russell said other options would need to be considered, such as an apartment building.

“If the application fails, there is no future with these modest buildings, and some other redevelopment will have to happen,” he said.

“If we come to you and say in six months time, having failed to achieve your approval for a bed and breakfast inn, then it will be with a three-storey apartment,” he said.

Aside from commercial growth management and the imbalance between commercial and residential development at the time, how to better regulate the proliferation of B&Bs was one of the single biggest issues.

B&B homes are subject to a quota of 65 for the entire community. Enns said B&B homes are required to be operated by a live-in owner operator and can have up to four commercial accommodation units, whereas B&B inns can be professionally managed and are much larger with up to 10 commercial accommodation units.

“They effectively function as smaller boutique hotels and because of that are very much more commercial in nature,” he said.

“I believe the intent in the early 1990s was to be restrictive, because they didn’t want mini hotels appearing throughout residential neighbourhoods.”

MPC’s decision isn’t about whether or not to approve a development permit, but is to be an initial decision regarding design and development regulations and whether or not his proposal for 218-220 Beaver St. is consistent with the land use bylaw.

A decision has been postponed until the next MPC meeting, currently scheduled for April 10 at 9 a.m. at Banff Town Hall.

Tanya Foubert

About the Author: Tanya Foubert

Tanya Foubert started as a news reporter at the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2006. She won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best news story for her coverage of the 2013 flood. In December 2018, she became editor of the Outlook.
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